JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu changed course Saturday night and announced plans to attend the funeral of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela after all.
Spokesman Roger Friedman did not explain Tutu’s abrupt reversal but said Tutu would catch a flight early in the morning and be in attendance at Mandela’s funeral Sunday in the village of Qunu.
He did not explain the reason for Tutu’s dramatic change of plans.
Tutu had earlier in the day said he would not go because the government had not made him feel welcome and he did not want to “gatecrash” the funeral of his longtime ally and friend.
Tutu, 82, is —like Mandela — the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his groundbreaking work in the ultimately successful struggle against apartheid.
More recently he has been a strong critic of President Jacob Zuma’s government, and seemed annoyed about the way funeral arrangements had been handled.
“Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata (Mandela) to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral,” Tutu said in a statement. “Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on earth that I would have missed it.”
His daughter also released a statement that Tutu would not attend as he had not been accredited as a clergyman for the event.
But government officials said Tutu had been accredited to attend and would be welcome.
The high profile spat may revolve around whether Tutu was invited to speak at the funeral or is simply welcome to attend. Tutu has figured prominently at the funerals of most of the major anti-apartheid leaders, including Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu and others.
Collins Chabane, a top government official involved in organizing the mourning ceremonies, said Tutu was on a proposed guest list for the events that was submitted by church leaders. He said Tutu was No. 6 on the list of 112 names, and that he was accredited for the Qunu funeral.
“We did not send any invitation (to Tutu) as we did not send any invitation to anybody,” he said.
Chabane said there seems to be some confusion between being accredited and being asked to speak during the funeral service. The list of speakers has not yet been released.
The imbrogilio was the latest problem to hit the 10-day mourning period for Mandela, the former president who died on Dec. 5 at age 95. The public memorial ceremony for Mandela on Tuesday at a Soweto stadium started late, had problems with loudspeakers and featured a signing interpreter for the deaf who made incomprehensible gestures, later said that he is schizophrenic and reportedly once faced charges of murder and other serious crimes.
It also spotlighted occasional frictions between Tutu and Zuma. Two years ago, Tutu slammed the ANC-led government as “disgraceful” for not issuing a visa to the Dalai Lama. He said it was worse than the country’s former oppressive white regime.
At that time, South African foreign ministry officials denied they stalled on the visa because of pressure from China, a major trading partner.
Tutu, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his nonviolent campaign against white racist rule, had invited the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel laureate, to South Africa to celebrate Tutu’s 80th birthday. The Dalai Lama’s office said he was calling off the visit because he didn’t expect to get a visa.
Tutu accused the South African government of failing to side with “Tibetans who are being oppressed viciously by the Chinese.” He also charged Zuma with ignoring the contribution religious leaders made to toppling the white Nationalist Party.
Before April 2009 elections propelled Zuma to the presidency, Tutu had said he was so skeptical of the ANC leader he was considering not casting a ballot. Tutu cited a rape trial in which Zuma was acquitted and corruption charges that were dropped just before the vote.
Tutu worked closely with Mandela and served as one of the anti-apartheid struggle’s most visible public figures during the 27 years when Mandela was imprisoned.
He was the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by Mandela’s government which investigated apartheid atrocities and he delivered the final report to Mandela in October 1998.
AP Writer Christopher Torchia in Qunu, South Africa, contributed to this report.